Fantastic Friday: Mutant mania

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. It’s more manga-inspired action with 2004’s X4: X-Men/Fantastic Four. I was going to skip this series due to unavailability, but I found a copy at the last minute, so let’s get our mutant freak on.

What’s all this, then? The first issue cover credits Pat Lee and Dreamwave Studios, with the interior credits show writer Akira Yoshida, Lee on pencils, and variety of others on layout, backgrounds, and inks. Founded by Pat Lee, Dreamwave burst on the scene with super-cool comics such as Dark Minds and Warlands. They later got the license to the Transformers, and they were more or less the caretakers of the Transformers universe for a while. Dreamwave shut down in 2005, and there are a lot of differing and unfortunate opinions online as to why, with a lot of ugliness and people saying mean things to each other. It appears this miniseries came right at the end of Dreamwave, because starting with issue #3, the credits read “Dream Engine Studios” instead.

X4 begins in Earth’s orbit, where NASA space station Simulacra is welcoming home a Mars lander. Something goes wrong and, there’s an explosion. Cut the Xavier Institute in Westchester, New York. Wolverine is woken up due to the X-Mansion’s doorbell. With no one else around, he answers it and finds the Fantastic Four at the X-Men’s front door. Ben says, “Our big brain just wants to talk to your big brain.” Wolverine loses his cool, and he and Ben fight for several pages. Storm flies down from the sky, and then a fight breaks out between her and Johnny. These fights go on for a few more pages, in a classic excuse-for-the-characters-to-show-off-their-powers. Emma Frost then arrives and uses telepathy to break up the fight.  

The FF and the X-Men gather inside the mansion, with Reed explaining that he just had to make a request in person, rather than calling or emailing. Reed wants to speak to Professor Xavier, but Wolverine says the prof has taken off. Reed shows them footage of the Simulacra, saying that the station had an eighteen-member crew, and its unknown whether any survived the explosion. The Beast suspects that something was hidden on the Mars lander. Reed says he’s come to the X-Men for use of Cerebra, their advanced mutant-hunting computer.

Emma Frost says neither Cerebra nor any mutant telepath can reach space, and Cyclops suggests a team flying to space to get a telepath close to the Simulacra. The X-Men show off their new X-Jet, which combines human and alien tech, and capable of long-distance spaceflight. The FF are impressed, but there are only six seats inside. It’s decided that the team will be Emma for her telepathy, Ben and Wolverine for the muscle, and Sue, Nightcrawler, and Gambit for their “resources.”  They fly to the Simulacra, where Emma senses frightened survivors inside. The heroes enter the station to find a tentacled monster waiting for them.

Issue #2 begins with Reed and Beast comparing notes, with Reed saying he’s been tracking a cosmic irregularity that may be related to the incident in the Simulacra, and it’s similar to the cosmic rays that gave the FF their powers. Reed says he’s concerned about what cosmic rays might do to mutants’ X-factor that given them their powers. On board the Simulacra, the monsters are revealed to be the Brood, alien parasites whom the X-Men have often battled. The heroes fight off the Brood, and Emma coordinates everyone to split up, with one half of their group searching for survivors and one half further fighting the Brood.

Sue, Emma, and Gambit find the survivors, who have been implanted with Brood eggs. Sue wants to save them while Emma argues that the survivors are already dead. Sue undoes a Brood jamming device and contacts Reed, who tells them must evacuate because the cosmic storm is approaching. Sue agrees to leave, hoping to return and save the survivors once the storm passes. The X-Jet gets hit by the cosmic storm as the heroes depart. It is damaged, and comes crashing down to Earth, in the middle of a forest. The X-Men emerge from it, transformed into monster-like creatures.

Issue #3 begins with Reed, Johnny, Cyclops, Storm, and Beast searching the crash site in a Fantasticar. They’re attacked, only to discover their attackers are the four X-Men from the mission, now in their monstrous forms. More fighting breaks out, with Cyclops and Storm not wanting to harm their teammates. We see that Nightcrawler has gained Sue’s powers, and Gambit now has Johnny’s powers. Emma doesn’t speak, but lashes out at Cyclops her new diamond form – her secondary mutation – and mention is made that she’s like the Thing now. Wolverine’s arms are unnaturally long, meaning he has Reed’s powers.

There’s a lot more fighting, with Sue and Ben eventually revealing they are okay. With their help, the heroes subdue the four transformed X-Men. Beast and Reed start to talk about a cure when Wolverine comes to and flees into the woods. While the others stay behind to search for him, Reed and Beast return to the Baxter Building. Because Wolverine, Gambit, and Nightcrawler haven’t yet had a secondary mutation, Reed believes Emma’s secondary mutation could be the cure. Then Sue calls Reed with a more pressing matter. The space shuttle Titan is returning to Earth from its space mission, except it’s filled with Brood.

Issue #4 shows that the shuttle is headed straight for New York. Sue blames herself, as the Brood on the shuttle are what became of the survivors she left behind. Storm tells Sue not to blame herself and focus on saving New York. There are several pages of Sue, Storm, and Johnny working together to bring the shuttle down for a safe landing.

Beast worries that a larger team of superheroes will be needed to contain the Brood inside the shuttle, so he and Reed get to work curing the transformed X-Men. There’s another fight on the woods when Ben and Cyclops manage to subdue Wolverine. The take Wolverine to Reed’s lab for further work on the cure, when giant whale-like aliens appear in the sky over NYC, and the shuttle opens to let out the Brood.

The big battle kicks off in issue #5, with several pages of the X-Men and the FF fighting back a full-scale alien invasion. In Reed’s lab, Reed wonders if he can cure the X-Men when he’s never been able to cure Ben. Beast gives him a pep talk, saying the always-changing nature of mutation gives Reed the edge this time. The cure works, and Wolverine, Gambit, and Nightcrawler join the fight in the streets of NYC. With their help, the heroes fight back the Brood.

As for Emma Frost, she too is healed, and she and Reed return to the X-Mansion to use Cerebra. Reed uses his genius to amplify Cerebra’s power, and Emma says she will send the Brood on “a ‘trip’ they won’t soon forget.” Combining her telepathy with the new Cerebra, she makes the Brood think that both Galactus and Phoenix have arrived in New York as well. The Brood then retreat, fleeing in terror. The two teams compare notes, with Reed saying neither of them could have driven back the Brood on their own. Later, the FF join the X-Men at the Xavier Institute for one of the X-Men’s regular softball games. Sue and Emma have a heart-to-heart talk, in which Emma says it is good to have someone else looking out for her teammates, and Sue says, “That’s what being a family is all about.”

Unstable molecule: Reed says he’s unaware the X-Men are experiencing secondary mutations. But he’s saying that to Beast’s cat-like form, which is Beast’s secondary mutation! Maybe Reed was just being polite.

Fade out: Like many comic readers, Sue is perplexed by the relationship between Emma Frost and Cyclops. Emma tells her that the X-Men think of her and Cyclops the same way the FF think of Sue and Namor.

Clobberin’ time: I’d thought that the Reed-trying-and-failing-to-cure-Ben plot was resolved by this point (Reed can’t cure Ben because of Ben’s own mental blocks), but it’s referenced several times in this. In the end, Ben says he has faith Reed will find an answer someday.

Flame on: When Gambit has Johnny’s exact same powers, Johnny manages to defeat him not with fire, but by punching him right in the face.

SUE-per spy: The 2019 Invisible Woman miniseries revealed that Sue had a double life as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent all along. When fighting the Brood in this story, she creates an invisible sword out of a force field. When did she have this kind of control? Could it be her spy training at work?

Trivia time: Where are the X-Men at in continuity at this point? Astonishing X-Men kicked off its “Danger” storyline, which the Danger Room went haywire, evolving into a new character named Danger. New X-Men was in the middle of its “Haunted” story arc, portraying the X-Mansion as a haunted house. (This was unrelated to the Danger Room stuff, it seems.) Uncanny X-Men had the mutants taking on the Hellfire Club in a confusing tale also featuring nanites. And in the adjectiveless X-Men, it was the Christmas issue (!) in which Wolverine’s clone X-23 became an official X-Man.

Why isn’t Professor X there? Never minding that he has a long history of taking off and leaving the X-Men on their own, in this case he’d left for Genosha in hopes of rebuilding it from a wasteland back into a working nation.

When the FF and the X-Men meet in the mansion, we see three Xavier School students eavesdropping. The Marvel Wiki reveals these are Elixir, Wallflower, and Wind Dancer, three recent additions to the school.

Why is the X-Men’s mutant-seeking computer Cerebra and not Cerebro? Cerebra is the newer, better version, developed by Professor X and Beast. In addition to mutants, Cerebra can also direct Atlanteans and vampires.

There are several refences to the Avengers not being around. This is more fallout from the Avengers: Disassembled event, where the Avengers disbanded for a time. But wait, New Avengers, which co-starred Wolverine, debuted at the same time as this miniseries. I guess we’ll have to conclude this miniseries precedes New Avengers.

Fantastic or frightful? The story here is very basic, and the idea of giving the FF’s powers to four X-Men isn’t explored as much as I’d like. Nonetheless, there’s a lot of good stuff here. The shuttle crash scene is very well done and cinematic, as the comic walks us through how the heroes use their powers to stop the crashing shuttle.  The sky whales recall the 2012 Avengers movie, to where I wonder if the movie was directly inspired by this.

Next: Back on main.

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Want more? Check out my new ongoing serial, THE SUBTERKNIGHTS, on Kindle Vella. A man searches for his missing sister in a city full of far-out technology and hidden dark magic. The first three chapters are FREE, so give it a shot! Click here for a list of all my books and serials.

About Mac McEntire

Author of CINE HIGH.
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